Smoke from Canadian wildfires reaches US, Minnesota under air quality alert

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(NEW YORK) — With over 100 active wildfires burning in Canada, wildfire smoke has drifted across the border into the United States, prompting Minnesota officials to issue the state’s first air quality alert of 2024.

At least 37 of the 141 active fires burning in Canadian wildfires have been labeled “out of control,” including one that started on Friday in British Columbia and has since spread to 4,200 acres, forcing the evacuation of the small town of Fort Nelson, and the Fort Nelson Indian Reserve, officials said.

Most of the active wildfires, at least 90, are in British Columbia and Alberta provinces.

Canada’s National Preparedness Level increased to level 2 out of 5, meaning “wildland fire activity is increasing within one or more jurisdictions,” according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center.

In the U.S., smoke from the Canadian wildfires has reached states from Montana to Wisconsin, but was especially heavy in Minnesota on Sunday. Minnesota’s air quality alert was issued Sunday and will remain in place through Monday.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) for much of northern Minnesota has been between 150 and 200 today, which is “unhealthy” and at times has gone above the 200 AQI mark, into a “very unhealthy” zone.

Bemidji, a city in northern Minnesota, recorded a 212 AQI on Sunday, where residents could smell the smoke in the air at these levels and placed the town among the worst air quality locations in the world.

Overnight, Minneapolis, Minnesota, was expected to have medium to heavy smoke levels reaching the surface, with officials warning residents, especially those with allergies, to make sure their windows are closed through Monday morning.

By sunrise on Monday, the wildfire smoke in the U.S. was much weaker, with medium levels reaching from Wisconsin to southern Minnesota.

By Monday evening, Omaha, Nebraska, is projected to experience some hazier skies due to the flow of the wildfire smoke.

Year-to-date, there have been more than 950 wildfires in Canada – nearly triple the number from three weeks ago, officials said.

The effects of wildfire smoke are an increasing worry across the United States that is only expected to worsen, according to a study released in February.

By mid-century, the effects of wildfire smoke could bring startling health risks to 125 million Americans, according to the First Street Foundation, a climate-risk data provider.

In June 2023, smoke from the Canadian wildfires blanketed parts of the Northeast and Midwest with a thick, orange haze.

Eighteen states at the time, from Montana to New York and as far south as Georgia, were under air quality alerts, according to AirNow. New York City topped the list of the world’s worst air quality rankings by a landslide, according to IQ Air.

Wildfire smoke poses health risks to everyone, but especially individuals with existing health conditions. It’s associated with strokes, heart disease, respiratory disease, lung cancer, and early death, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency.

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